"Embrace the suck," is Matt Foster's older brother T.J.'s advice to him, and he's got a whole lot of suck to embrace.
Not only did T.J. leave Matt with their vicious, alcoholic father—their bipolar mother died years ago—when he enlisted and then deployed to the Middle East, now he is dead. Their father resolutely refuses to talk about T.J., and he's hidden the small bag of stuff the "uniforms" brought the Fosters when they notified them of T.J'.s death. Under suspension for fighting—and threat of "so help me…" if he doesn't get his ass back in gear—Matt finds an unexpected opportunity when more uniforms drop off his brother’s remaining personal effects: trunks containing photographs of a beautiful black woman and her family and often-steamy letters from “C.” With help from his lifelong friend Shauna, he plots an escape to Madison, Wisc., where he hopes to connect with his brother's memory. Matt tells his tale in an almost excruciatingly deliberate present-tense narration; Kokie grounds readers so thoroughly in Matt’s misery that they will be as itchy to escape the brutal emptiness of life with his father as he is. Realistically, though the inevitable revelation and resolution bring peace to Matt, they do not heal his father; readers will just have to hope he can make it through.
A fine addition to the literature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)